Friday, 21 October 2016

Mental Health and Its Misconceptions -Amenla Jamir, Assistant Professor, Department of Education





                 
Marilyn Monroe is considered to be a pop culture icon. Known for her 'blonde' persona, Monroe enjoyed immense success in the 1950s and was considered to be an embodiment of the American Dream. However, people disliked her for her frequent outbursts and mood swings. Crew members and fellow actors of her 1959 film ‘Some Like it Hot' were severely annoyed by her unprofessional behaviour as she needed more than 40 takes to get even the simplest of scenes right. What no one understood was the agony of a woman struggling with depression and paranoia. Ostracization from the film industry worsened her case, and at the age of 36, she is believed to have committed suicide. This week's article addresses the stigma associated with mental disorders.

Mental Health and and It's Misconceptions


Our Naga society has a rather disapproving outlook towards those who suffer from mental disorders and conditions. The negativity builds a stigma around the subject, which results in hushed conversations in marketplaces and raised eyebrows of people who know very little of what the issue is about. People who are in need of professional counselling are thus denied of the same. It is important to stop treating this as a stigma, and develop a well rounded opinion of what mental health is all about.

Mental health is defined as a state of wellbeing in which individuals realise their own potentials, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make contributions to their communities. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being that affects how we behave and relate to others. 

But, before we talk about misconceptions that exist in our society, let us first try to identify what ‘mental illness' means. Mental illness is any condition that makes it difficult for an individual to cope with the daily functions and stresses of life. It affects one's studies, relationships, job, etc. Some general symptoms that may suggest mental illnesses in children and teenagers are changes in school performance, falling grades, inability to cope with daily problems and activities, changes in sleeping and eating habits, skipping school, stealing, frequent outbursts of anger, withdrawal from friends, intense fear of gaining weight, etc. In adults, the symptoms include confused thinking, strong feelings of anger, long lasting sadness or irritability, increasing inability to cope with daily problems and activities, excessive fear, worry or anxiety, and abuse of drugs or alcohol. Mental health problems can cover a broad range of disorders, but the common characteristics is that they all affect a person's personality, thought processes, and social interactions. Unlike physical disorders, mental illnesses can be difficult to diagnose; as a result, our society views these problems as inconsequential. 

There is a misconception that mental illness affects only few people, but according to a research published by World Health Organisation (WHO), it was found that 1 in 5 people suffer from a mental disorder severe enough to affect school, work, or other aspects of life. In other words, mental illness is common. Another misconception is that mental illnesses cannot be treated. However, if these were true, therapy and treatment would be pointless. In fact, telling people ailing from depression that their problems will not go away, can deplete their already dwindling motivation to seek help. It is essential to remember that even though we don't know how to cure mental illnesses, it is possible to treat these ailments to the point that a person afflicted with such maladies can lead a happy and fulfilling life.

In recent years, Nagaland has witnessed an increase in mental illnesses. One misconception I have come across in our society regarding mental illness is, ‘MENTAL ILLNESS' means the person will be ‘VIOLENT' or ‘DESTRUCTIVE' for the society. In some cases that might be true, but not always. Many people with mental disorders are often stigmatized and discriminated by people around them, and they are forced to live in shame and suffer in silence, which in turn acts as a barrier for them to seek appropriate help and treatment.

Anxiety, depression, alcohol and sexual abuse, and bipolar disorders are some of the most common mental illnesses especially among the Naga youths. It is imperative for us to identify the signs and symptoms of mental illness at an early stage and try to treat it with proper care. When we look back to a decade ago, Nagas were not well aware of mental illnesses and their basic symptoms; however, there is a considerable change in public attitude towards people with mental disorder. And this improvement in the attitude of the society can be attributed to public awareness programs and formal education. Nevertheless, as far as I know, in our state, there is only one recognised mental health care facility, State Mental Health Institute-SMHI, located in Kohima. As a result, in our society, when persons are afflicted with some serious mental health problems, we prefer to go to prayer warriors, or traditional healers. Certainly, I am not against such methods, but what I am getting at is that as of now we don't really have well trained doctors or psychiatrists in our society to which patients afflicted with mental illnesses can go to, to get appropriate help and treatment. And so, we revert back towards the traditional methods of treating mental health problems.

Ultimately, the need of the hour in our state is to establish more mental health care facilities (at least one in every district) with well trained counsellors and psychiatrists. Additionally, it is also essential to include mental health education in our education programs with special emphasis on mental disorders, its causes, and treatments. Such inclusion of mental health in our educational syllabus will help increase public's awareness of such ailments: how to identify signs and symptoms of mental illnesses, how they can be treated, and where they can be treated.

Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. The views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognized Commerce and Arts College. The editors are Dr. Hewasa Lorin, Anjan Behera, Dr. Salikyu Sangtam, Nivibo Yiki, and Kvulo Lorin. For feedback or comments please email: dot@tetsocollege.org.


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